A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on January 18, 2015 (Second Sunday after Epiphany)
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
– John 1:43-51
(Done as a monologue in character)
My name is Nathanael. I was one of the first of the people who became followers of Jesus during his ministry. Some might call me a disciple – although you won’t find my name on any of the lists of his twelve closest followers. Maybe that is because I consider the term “disciple” to be not a title I have earned, but more of a life-long aspiration. Once I met him and got to know him, I spent the rest of my life wanting to learn from him, live like him, relate to people like he did, be a healing presence and force like he was, and grow in love and faith in God like he did. I can tell you truthfully that some days I do better than others!
You have heard some of the stories about how various people came to follow him. I think these stories were written down not so much to record the history of what happened to us, but to show that everyone has a different way of coming to know and love him. That matters because his followers – his “disciples” were not just those of who lived two millennia ago, but also folks who have followed him ever since – perhaps maybe even you???
Take my friend, Philip, for instance. Jesus found him and simply said to him, “Follow me.” That was all it took – Philip followed. Folks in your time talk about people finding “love at first sight.” I think Philip was a case of falling in love with Jesus at first sight – to want to be with him, to learn from him and grow as a person with him. Although I wouldn’t call Philip impetuous. I think he spent a long time looking for something or someone REAL – that was really alive and shared that life with others. When he met Jesus, he found it – and that was all he needed.
And then Philip came excited to me, and said I had to meet this guy! He believed he was the greatest thing since sliced bread – the Savior of the world – the one our people had waited for and long for and expected that God would send to us. The one Moses and the prophets had written about and that we read about in the Bible. Me – maybe I’m just more cautious. There had been so many in our history who people thought might save us, and they turned out to be nothing – or worse. Philip said Jesus was from Nazareth. Now I’m no biblical scholar, but I have read enough from Moses and the prophets to know that they never said anything about Nazareth. Nazareth was nowhere! When I shared my doubts with Philip, he just said, “Come and see.”
Come and see. So I figured, OK – I’ll give it a shot. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was clear the guy had made an impression of Philip and I was curious to see why. When I first came to see him I didn’t see what the big deal was – until he spoke to me as if he knew everything about me! When I asked him how he knew me, he said he saw me even before Philip told me to come and see him. It was almost a little CREEPY – he saw me sitting under a tree when I don’t remember anyone being around.
But it soon became clear this was more than just a trick. He hadn’t just been spying on me. I soon realized he KNEW me – completely! Like Psalm 139 says God knows us – only I thought that was just poetry. And soon I began to realize that, if he knew where I had been sitting, and what kind of person I was, what else did he know about me? Did he know the times I am short-tempered and mean? He said I was an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Did he know how much I hide the truth from others? And yet, he wanted me to join him!
I was so overwhelmed I was sure he was sent by God to us. He was the great new ruler our people had been hoping for! But he said to me, “Are you saying these things just because I told you I saw you sitting under at tree? You will see greater things than these!
Well, I was amazed at what he said. And I think there are a lot of people who are first attracted to Jesus because of some amazing thing he does – a healing from some illness or injury; helping us through a tough time; providing us with gifts and resources when we think we have nothing; bringing us into a community and giving friends to us when we think no one will like us. Not that those things aren’t important – they are. But he has so much more to offer. Those things are like the appetizer before the main course.
“Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” That’s what he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that at first. It’s an odd thing to say. He seemed to be referring to the old story of Jacob and his dream about a ladder going from earth to heaven, with angels going up and down on it. I think he meant that we would eventually see that he brings earth and heaven together. Where he is, God is.
Maybe that means that Jesus gives us access to heaven when our days of life on earth are done. I hope so; I believe so. But it is more. Maybe Jesus brings together our spiritual nature and our human nature. He brings together time and eternity. He helps us to see how all the parts of our life are connected, and that God is at work in all of them. And he helps us to see that all people are part of God’s love and concern, and therefore mine as well.
Do you long to have a life that is that integrated? A life that isn’t just easier or less painful, but richer and more meaningful? Have you heard about Jesus, but haven’t really gotten to know him? Come and see.
And do you have friends who are looking for better lives and have tried every popular craze to make themselves feel younger, more attractive, and more loved, but still don’t like themselves? Do they feel like they are less than human? Tell them what my friend Philip told me, “Come and see.”
Grace and peace to you. Amen.
Robert J. von Trebra